What are Anthropologists Up to These Days?

Do you ever wonder what anthropologists are doing for fun these days?  Sure, there are still plenty of ancient cultures to figure out and there are plenty of modern “primitive” cultures to study, but that’s their bread and butter.  No one would do a double-take if an anthropologist said at a party, “I’m studying the ancient Mayans’ socio-cultural relationship with the llama.”, even if they had no idea what it actually meant.

It turns out that modern anthropologists mostly study much closer to home.  One anthropologist, Gabriella Coleman, spent three years studying the mysterious hackers of the San Francisco Bay Area.  Here’s the most interesting bit:

Wired: It’s hard to tell a good geek joke because there are all these layers to them.

Often, the humor you talk about is used as a way of identifying like-minded people. I think that a lot of people from that community spend a lot of their time not being understood or talking to people who don’t care about the same things that they do. So they need a shorthand to figure out, “OK we can have a conversation.”

It’s actually a hack that allows you to connect with people who it’s worth your time time talk to.

Coleman: One of the things in that chapter that I argue is that hackers, first of all, are good at joking because to hack is to rearrange form. That’s what jokes are. That’s a pragmatic utilitarian argument, but they really culturally value it for all sorts of reasons.

Even a wonderful piece of code is up for debate, but a very funny joke, it gets affirmed with laughter and then it’s kind of indisputable.

How cool would that be?  Following a sub-culture around for a few years and figuring out how they work.  Anthropology would be an awesome job to have if I were independently wealthy.  Just sitting and studying people.  Though, I guess I do quite a bit of that now.